We were all hoping for a reaction, all we got was another defeat but what did we learn?
1. The past week has arguably left us with more questions than answers. Palace went from putting in their two best performances of the season against Manchester United and Burnley to churning out two apathetic displays against Brighton and West Ham. The most unsettling thing about Saturday’s game at the London Stadium was the way the Eagles capitulated in just twenty minutes after half time, letting any hope of a result slip from their grasp in the process. Palace’s success fending off relegation in recent seasons has been built on an ability to unite and stand up in times of adversity – if this squad of players have lost the knack to even do that then it’s time for the alarm bells to really start ringing.
2. The good will towards Roy Hodgson is dwindling. After the heroics of last season the former England manager was rightly seen as the man to inspire progress, but six months later the team looks demotivated and devoid of ideas, and the 71-year-old’s stubbornness may well prove to be his downfall. To an extent, Hodgson’s hands are tied by a flawed transfer policy that has assembled a threadbare squad that still relies on one man, but that doesn’t mean the manager is exempt from criticism. His reluctance to change the system and personnel, or at least try something a little bit different, has left us all frustrated with many calling for his head. The problem? Who on earth we get to replace him if he goes.
3. Perhaps the most damning thing is that after nearly six seasons in the Premier League, Palace are still relying purely on one player. I’ve written in the past arguing that being a one-man team isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that player brings the best out of those around him, as has been the case in the past, but when he becomes the only means to an end then it’s time to question how the club’s hierarchy has allowed it to get to this point. Let’s make one thing clear: Wilfried Zaha is one of Palace’s greatest ever players and has provided us with the most memorable moments in our recent history. Now, though, Zaha and Palace are almost becoming a hinderance to one another. Palace because their overreliance on the 26-year-old has placed an almost unattainable weight of expectation on his shoulders; Zaha because his superiority means that the Eagles are incapable of finding a way to function without him. Despite having one of the best players outside the top six, Palace currently seem less effective as a team than Brighton, Wolves and even Neil Warnock’s Cardiff – all of whom have spent significantly less time in the top flight. Whether it’s in January or the summer, the time may have come to let Zaha fulfil his undoubted potential elsewhere, and for Palace to finally share responsibility between eleven players rather than one.
4. One of the effects of playing the same starting eleven every game is that they get tired – both physically and mentally. The likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Patrick van Aanholt, Mamadou Sakho, James McArthur, Luka Milivojevic and Andros Townsend have all now started at least 15 of Palace’s 16 games this season – and it’s beginning to show. The away side were sloppy in possession against West Ham and slow to react for all three goals. Players in the modern era may be fitter than ever before, but Palace are constantly finding themselves up against teams on fresher legs thanks to managers who are happy to rotate their squad. Palace are currently running on tired legs and tired minds – perhaps the forced changes against Leicester will give some players a much-needed rest.
5. Palace are now only one point better off than they were at the same stage last season – after that apocalyptic start which saw us score no goals and pick up no points from our first seven games. The fact that the Eagles find themselves in an almost identical position every season must be traced back to the board, who have taken big-money, short-term gambles on players and managers at the expense of building a truly competitive Premier League squad. What’s more is that – without Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Yohan Cabaye – this season’s starting eleven is weaker than the team that pulled us to safety last time around. Palace can’t keep relying on post-Christmas miracles to guide them out of trouble – time has caught up with bigger clubs than us and it’s time for the powers that be to wake up and realise that.